I’m not an espresso snob, but I value and want to be able to produce good quality shots at home. Straight shots & lattes are the primary means of consumption. My first machine (college) was an old Krups, the kind that used steam to generate the black swill that was supposedly called ‘espresso’. About 5 years ago I decided that this monstrosity should be replaced and so I bought a used Krups 968 on eBay and a Krups burr grinder at the local kitchen store. This was a significant step up. After a couple of years the machine started to have some leaking and temperature problems, and was relegated to the basement. At this point I decided I wanted to try something completely different. A demonstration by a Nespresso rep at the local kitchen store convinced me that I should buy one. I did, and I’m actually fairly impressed by it. So much so, I bought two – one for home and another for my office. It makes decent espresso shots, with good body and a nice amount of crema with zero mess and cleanup. But frankly I’m tired of paying for the capsules and dearly miss picking up freshly roasted beans at the local coffee shop. And so I turned my attention back to getting a ‘real’ machine.
I’m not quite up to the level of wanting a Rancillio, even though I know they are among the best. And so I started searching for a lower-middle priced machine of decent quality. I found myself impressed with the Breville Ikon’s looks, and my wife approved as well.
On to the machine itself….
In a word, it’s pretty good.
The machine looks lovely and seems to be pretty well made. It’s easy to use and heats up very quickly. The water level is right there, out in the open, and easy to refill. The machine goes from cold to ready for brewing in about one minute. The brew head gets very hot very quickly as well, which is good for temperature control. In-cup temps are at about 170 degrees, which I think equates to a good brew temp. Nice and hot, but not burnt, anyway. It is fantastic for steaming milk. Heats up to steam-mode very quickly and stays hot for as long as you want. A steel sleeve fits around the steam wand that does a good job at producing frothy milk. Removing the sleeve leaves you with just a naked steam wand end that (with a little practice) has allowed me to make some pretty wicked micro-froth. I’m very impressed with the steaming functions.
It comes with pressurized baskets. Not only are they a pain to clean (water is trapped in the filter - ick), but I’m not getting very much crema at all. The first few shots were dismal, with *no* crema. After experimenting with tamp pressures and beans, things are getting better but there’s not ever any beautiful mottling or tiger striping going on. With the stock filters, just a small amount of white-tan crema that falls apart in about 2 minutes. The crema is less impressive than what was coming out of the Nespresso. Also, I’m almost always left with a sloppy mess of a puck afterwards. However, I am not immediately blaming the machine because I do not think my grinder is grinding fine enough any longer. I really need a better grinder before I can pass judgement for sure.
However, things are looking up. As I’m experimenting with beans, grind settings, and tamp firmness, my shots are improving. I also purchased a non-pressurized basket (Krups part #0907163) that fits in the Breville portafilter. That made a lovely difference. Breville should include one of these in every box; label it the ‘Professional’ filter, or some such thing. Tamp pressure is more critical, but I have had a couple of ‘aha’ shots where the beans, grind, and tamp pressure all came together to produce a few shots with lovely crema and even better flavor. Still not ‘great’ shots, but they’re getting better. In other words, I think great shots are lurking in this machine, and it’s all about the ‘accessories’ to make it happen. As with any machine, a good grinder is critical.
An update: I put this in as a comment before I realized I could edit this...
11/9/07: Breville finally sent me the correct single-shot filter. Not that I'd ever use it really, but now I have all of the filters, along with a few spares.
Bigger news though. As expected, grind is critical. I ordered some beans from one of my favorite coffee shops, and had them grind one bag with an Espresso grind. I would normally not do this, but I wanted to see what the difference would be between my Krups cheap burr grinder and a trusted shop's espresso grind. Night-and-Day difference. My grind is gritty, uneven, and ugly. Their grind is that perfect sugar-sized blend that feels completely uniform. It's made a nice difference for the Ikon. Brew times have fallen from 10-15 seconds for 2oz to 20-30 for 2 oz. Still not tons of crema, but I am getting a nice 1/8 to 1/4 inch of golden-red crema on most shots, instead of a dusting of white, lifeless, fake crema. I can imagine that with a set of absolutely freshly Especially when using the non-pressurized portafilter that I picked up, I've had some shots I'd consider excellent. Moreover, the espresso tastes great and I'm overall quite happy with the purchase now. No, it's still not a Silivia, but for the price, I think it's excellent.
12/1/2007: Update #2
I've returned it. What the heck? Yeah, exactly. Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, my Gaggia MDF arrived. I can now grind finer than the 'espresso grind' Illy, so the grinder is no longer the issue. Crema is better, but I had a heck of a time getting it dialed in. I went through nearly a pound of beans just tinkering with the Ikon and the MDR settings, trying to get better crema. No dice. I did manage to eventually get it dialed in to the golden '2.5 in 25' second rule, and I did get some darker mottling, but it was still really thin and just not 'doing in' for me. Then the thing started leaking. With every brew, the steam wand started dripping. At first, it was a drip or two. Then it was a drip every 3-4 seconds. Then it was a drip every second. Steam valve as tight as i feel is healthy to turn. The valve is leaking and getting worse. It almost seems like that now that I've got the grind dialed in correctly for the right internal pressure, that the pressure is too much for some part. I could call Breville, and I'm sure that they would offer a solution, but I really felt that I wanted something better. So I took advantage of the return policy (unlimited, no questions asked) of Williams Sonoma and returned it. I won't go into the details in this review, but I ended up buying a Gaggia Classic and the difference is *amazing*. I'll write a review for it soon.